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Nigerian workers deserve a living wage now

On the eve of the 2024 International Workers’ Day, the federal government approved 25 and 35 percent salary increase for civil servants on six consolidated…

On the eve of the 2024 International Workers’ Day, the federal government approved 25 and 35 percent salary increase for civil servants on six consolidated salary structures. A statement issued by Emmanuel Njoku, Head of Press, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), said the increase took effect from January 1, 2024.

According to the statement, the six consolidated salary structures are the Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure (CONPSS), the Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAISS), the Consolidated Police Salary Structure (CONPOSS), the Consolidated Para-military Salary Structure (CONPASS), the Consolidated Intelligence Community Salary Structure (CONICCS) and the Consolidated Armed Forces Salary Structure (CONAFSS).

Not surprisingly, the organised labour, represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) characterized the increment as “mischievous” because the federal government is yet to agree to a new national minimum wage.

The NLC and the TUC had to once again give the government a deadline to either conclude the process of implementing a new national minimum wage or face industrial action. NLC President Joe Ajaero and his TUC counterpart, Festus Osifo, gave the ultimatum of May 31, 2024 at the Eagle Square, Abuja, during the 2024 Workers’ Day celebration.

According to Comrade Ajaero, “At this point, comrades, we want to inform you that the process of fixing a new national minimum wage is continuing. All parties in the tripartite process are well represented and the engagement has been robust. We have placed our demand of N615,000 only before our social partners while we await their offer. If, however, the negotiation of the minimum wage is not concluded by the end of May, the trade union movement in Nigeria will no longer guarantee industrial peace in the country”.

He also said labour had placed a demand that the new Act would have a two-year lifespan with an agreement for automatic adjustments in wages any time inflation exceeded 7.5 per cent. He said Nigerian workers deserved to have a national minimum wage that approximated a living wage.

“Our figures are based on objective realities around the nation and not based on some fantasy; but on what confronts us as workers around the nation. We want to be able to buy food stuff, housing, among others. Any wage that is below this living wage condemns workers to starvation,” he said.

We, at Daily Trust, identify with the demands of Nigerian workers and call on the government to grant them a living wage with immediate effect.  Even though President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in his May Day message delivered by Vice President Kashim Shettima, had assured workers that his administration was open to granting a living wage, and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, said  the implementation of the new national minimum wage  would take effect from May 1, 2024, when agreed upon, we note, with consternation, the level of penury that Nigerian workers are being subjected to since the advent of this administration.

It appears as if the government is not aware of the hardship it has inflicted on Nigerians through its economic policies of fuel subsidy removal, flotation of the Naira and the recent hike in electricity tariff to Band A customers. Whatever the long-term effects of these policies might be, in the short term, they have succeeded in further impoverishing Nigerians by inflating the prices of all essential commodities.

We wonder why the government that prides itself on taking bold measures to transform the economy is lackadaisical in taking effective measures to cushion the effects of those measures on its workers.

Even the Sani Abacha dictatorship established the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) after increasing the cost of petrol; while the Goodluck Jonathan administration had its Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) after removing the petroleum subsidy.

Yet, the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses and infrastructure promised by this administration are yet to see the light of day.

We see no reason the 37-member tripartite committee on Minimum Wage set up by the Federal Government On January 30, 2024 “to provide counsel and suggest a national minimum wage that aligns with our current economic conditions” is still yet to reach a conclusion. Even the six-months   N35,000 wage award granted by the federal government on Independence Day  failed to be consistently implemented.

Paying a living wage to workers, in our opinion, is one of the low-hanging fruits available for the government to achieve its programmes. Workers are the actual implementers of all policies, whether in the public or private sector and without living wages, they are placed in the dilemma of either underperforming or exploiting illegitimate means of pending for themselves.

In granting a living wage, therefore, the government should be guided by the statistics being gathered by its own agencies regarding the essential expenses of the average Nigerian worker. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the average cost of a healthy diet in Nigeria per adult per day in March 2024 rose to N982. This price is based on the least expensive combination of locally available items that meet globally consistent food-based dietary guidelines, excluding the cost of transportation and meal preparation. If we factor in the cost of rent, electricity, transportation, clothing and other necessities, it goes without saying that Nigerian workers are being impoverished by this foot-dragging in the process of arriving at a new minimum wage.

We, therefore, call on the federal government to make sure it implements a new living wage for workers before the end of May 2004 and ensure that state governments comply with the agreement as some are still recalcitrant in complying with the current national minimum wage.

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